Although a variety of disease agents have been reported from bed bugs, the mechanical and biological disease transmission potential of bed bugs remains unelucidated. In this study we assayed survivability of the mildly pathogenic spotted fever group rickettsia, Rickettsia parkeri, in bed bugs after feeding on R. parkeri-infected chicken blood. Two groups of 15 adult bed bugs each were fed on infected or noninfected blood, and two groups of fourth-instar bed bugs also were fed on either infected or noninfected blood. One group of 15 adult bed bugs received no bloodmeal and was included as an additional control. Two weeks postfeeding, two pools of five live bed bugs from each group were surface sterilized, macerated, and placed in Vero cell cultures in an attempt to grow live organism. The remaining five individual bed bugs from each group were dissected, their salivary glands were removed for immunofluorescence assay (IFA) staining, and the remaining body parts were processed for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. Results indicated that no immature (now molted to fifth instar) bed bugs were positive for R. parkeri by IFA or PCR, indicating that organisms did not survive the molting process. After 4 wk of cell culture, no organisms were seen in cultures from any of the treatment or control groups, nor were any cultures PCR positive. However, two of the adult bed bugs were IFA positive for rickettsia-like organisms, and these two specimens were also PCR positive using R. parkeri-specific primers. These IFA and PCR results indicate that remnants of Rickettsia parkeri (possibly whole organisms) survived in the bugs for 2 wk, but the viability of the organisms in these two specimens could not be determined.
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Vol. 49 • No. 4